Mary Katherine Murphy
The chairman of Scotland County’s Board of Commissioners found himself under pressure regarding the county’s financial situation at Friday’s meeting of the Scotland County Democratic Women.
Commissioner Bob Davis and opponent Ken Haney, both Democrats running for the chance to represent Stewartsville Township on the Scotland County Board of Commissioners, spoke to the group during their weekly meeting at Captain Larry’s Seafood Restaurant.
Davis pledged, if elected, to continue to represent and promote the county statewide. He also sought to dispel a few misconceptions about the county’s taxation system and finances.
“The thing that you hear about is taxes, and that we’re the highest tax county in the state, and that’s not true,” Davis said. “If you have an $85,000 house in Scotland County, your taxes are $841. That same house in Richmond County, even though they have a tax rate of 81 cents, when they get through adding, the taxes there are $813. So you have $30 or so difference in tax.”
Davis also alluded to the North Carolina Local Government Commission’s letters in recent years regarding the depletion of Scotland County’s fund balance.
“You also hear that the county’s broke,” said Davis. “That’s not true. We have a balance right at the moment of just over $14 million. Some of that will be spent over the next few months to pay our bills, but we are not broke.”
Davis said that there has been some economic improvement in the county during his term of office.
“During this period of time, we have had several industries come in – about 220 employees have been added and between 40 and 45 million dollars of investment.”
Haney placed the fault for the county’s recent budget troubles entirely in the hands of the current county commissioners.
“In spite of a strong and repeated warning from the LGC, our county government continued to over budget property taxes and the fund balance at an unprecedented rate until the LGC was forced to step in and make the commissioners recognize that our county finances were on life support,” Haney said. How can we expect the people who put us in this financial hole when we had an adequate fund balance to be the ones who can get us out when we don’t have a fund balance?”
Having spent eight years as Gibson’s town manager, Haney said that he is well-equipped to address the shortfall in the county’s fund balance and redirect the management trends set by the current commissioners.
“There will be a need for many different decisions in the next four years for us to get out of this mess, and I have the experience to do it,” said Haney. “When I became manager of the town of Gibson, the town faced many of the same financial problems as the county now faces, which were caused by similar financial practices. By working together with the town and the citizens of Gibson, we were able to correct the deficits and create an adequate fund balance for the town.”
Davis’ response was twofold. He said that he had little part of any trend of mismanagement, as the first budget into which he had input, in 2010-2011, he voted against.
“I went through that budget and found almost half a million dollars that could have been cut that would not have affected a single soul in cuts from salaries,” Davis said.
He also added that an increase in the property tax is expected to close the gap between the current fund balance, at 6.7 percent of the budget, to the eight percent recommended by the LGC.
“We did raise taxes with the intent and hope that we could put that money towards the fund balance to grow our fund balance,” said Davis. “As of this minute, we need $262,913 to be at the eight percent. If we are where we ought to be at the end of the year, we’ll collect $300,000 and that will put us at the magic number of eight percent.”
A candidate for register of deeds, Aletha Poole, was also on hand to introduce herself to the Democratic Women. Poole is running against incumbent Debra Holcomb.
Poole, who has lived in Scotland County for 12 years, has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a former manager of Laurinburg’s Walmart store.
“As a candidate for register of deeds, my primary focus is to continue to develop and foster an office that will provide efficient, automated, and professional service to the citizens of Scotland County,” Poole said. “I bring with me 23 years of proven ability and business management experience including organization, customer relations, attention to detail, and finance.”
Working in a “multimillion dollar facility,” Poole said that she does understand how to operate in the face of budget cuts.
“During this economic struggle in our country and our county, I understand budget cuts,” she said. “I truly understand the concept of what it means to do more with less. I am willing to roll up my sleeves and do whatever it takes to provide professional and efficient service to the citizens of Scotland County as the register of deeds.”